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Feature: The Bizarre History of Pokémon Technology

Posted by Stephen Kelly

Go Go Gadget Pokémon

Ever since the Game Boy link cable connected rival trainers together in Pokémon Red and Blue, the famed monster-catching franchise has been fascinated with novel technology. Pick an eccentric doodad at random from Nintendo's library of experiments and you're certain to find a guinea Tepig tagging along to make sure it's safe for mass consumption. Battling other players was a no-brainer, but exchanging data via trades was largely uncharted territory back in the early '90s and blazed a trail for years to come.

The backwards compatibility of Gold and Silver evolved into global trading centres via the internet, and the feature list has been growing exponentially all the while. Infra-red communication, Nintendo 64 transfer paks, Game Boy printers, e-cards, and a host of other gizmos have contributed to this storied chronicle of oddball innovation. Upcoming DS title Pokémon Black and White 2 looks to be stuffed with more catch-'em-all technology than a human should safely enjoy, which makes this a logical time to settle down and consider some of the confounding contraptions that Nintendo has dreamt up.

Digital pets are only one step behind Furbies on the satanic meter, as anyone who has endured the childhood cycle of love, hatred, and bitter rejection can attest. The Pokémon Pikachu of 1998 had three key differences going for it: a pedometer tallied every real-life step taken, the virtual pal wouldn't beg for food, and... well, “Pokémon” and “Pikachu” were right there in the title. Sales sky-rocketed as thousands of fans, eager to care for a pocket monster of their own, strapped on the handheld device or – just as likely — shook it ferociously to simulate a brisk jog or two. This generated “watts” by the dozen, which Pikachu gladly accepted in exchange for cute little animations for you to smile over.

The new and improved Pokémon Pikachu 2 replaced the black and white LED screen with a full colour display and used the sorcery of infra-red technology to send Pokémon Gold and Silver some nifty items. As the unofficial conclusion to this trilogy, a Pokéwalker was included in remakes HeartGold and SoulSilver to bring cheery pedometers into the modern day. You've got to hand it to Nintendo; it looks out for your health.

In this Nintendo 64 cult “classic”, Pikachu returns. Or perhaps Pikachu Strikes Back would be more appropriate. While we're on the Star Wars title kick, let's just call it Revenge of the Pikachu and be done with it. Interacting directly with everyone's favourite electric mouse was a dream shared by millions, and thanks to Nintendo's Voice Recognition Unit (VRU), that dream became reality — in theory. Extending from one of the controller ports, the microphone was topped with a fuzzy yellow ball like an unappealing scoop of Styrofoam ice cream. This is the only product outside of Japan to make use of the VRU; you can probably guess why.

The idea was to guide Pikachu through his daily routine using a set of voice commands, but the dear little fellow's inability to distinguish between the phrases “eat it” and “Magnemite” curdled away every last drop of charm. Mini-games became one-sided shouting matches, whether Pikachu was babysitting fellow Pokémon, swinging at a piñata or toddling through any number of simple tasks. Incredibly rumours of a 3DS remake still persist, proving once and for all that people are nuts.

During Nintendo's now-defunct SpaceWorld trade show in 2000, the anomaly known as Meowth's Party blinked into existence. As a tech demo for the GameCube, it ran alongside the likes of Metroid Prime and that ultimately misleading battle between Link and Ganondorf. Spectacularly goofy music blared as Meowth danced across the stage for a crowd of super psyched Pokémon, jamming on his electric guitar start to finish. A player-controlled camera proved that this fever dream was based on a real-time engine, which may have been necessary considering the sea of Squirtles and Geodudes cheering their maniacal rock star on. The loony musical number seems to have originated in 1999 as an ending theme to the Japanese Pokémon anime, so it's possible the assets happened to be lying around as SpaceWorld deadlines loomed.

Meowth may have failed in his scheme to pop the rhythm game bubble before it began, but the world hadn't seen the last of his escapades just yet. GameCube release Pokémon Channel, a spiritual successor of sorts to Hey You, Pikachu!, featured a music video based on the demo, and Meowth appeared with his bright red guitar as a Super Smash Bros. Melee trophy. It's not a glamorous life, living vicariously through more popular games, but it beats getting pummelled in every episode of a children's cartoon.

Instantly conjuring memories of Mario Teaches Typing and Typing of the Dead, the Pokémon series jumped into the edutainment space with this recent release on DS, Learn with Pokémon: Typing Adventure. While a handheld typing trainer may sound like madness, Nintendo has sought to solve the problem with a specialised wireless keyboard that taps into the game card via Bluetooth. By propping the DS on an equally unique stand and lying the keyboard flat on the surface of your choice, clacking away like an above average student of Mavis Beacon should be second nature.

The software is aimed at children, but with words like “Zoroark” floating around, even fast-fingered veterans can get thrown off. Learning with Pokémon is an offer most kids would jump at, even if the “learning” part is a means to an ends. Of course, rather than educational value or innovative technology, Typing Adventure will be remembered for naming a character Paige Down. Bravo, Nintendo localisation. Bravo.

3DS is a Swiss army knife of Nintendo gadgetry just waiting for some Pokémon to show up and start the party, and that's exactly what's happening. Now on eShop, Pokémon: Dream Radar takes advantage of the camera, 3D settings, gyroscopic controls, augmented reality and data transfer features. More machine now than game, this downloadable app is essentially Face Raiders without the recurring nightmares, instead populating every day surroundings with the wispy forms of Pokémon. You' have to tilt and rotate the 3DS in dramatic fashion to track and capture your quarry, which — at the very least — should prove for an entertaining spectator sport.

The small handful of Pokémon available can be ported directly over to Black and White 2's game cart, including a trio of legendary creatures and their ultra special Therian Formes. A scant few Pokémon can be dropped right into the past DS RPGs as well, continuing the backwards compatible trend pioneered in Gold and Silver. Covered head to toe in gimmicks and technology but zeroing in on catching 'em all, Dream Radar can perhaps be considered a kind of silly, lovable parody of the entire series.

Nintendo hasn't let up on its mad science experiments for a moment, and as long as the Pokémon franchise still stands tall, it probably never will. What's shocking is all the material that isn't covered in the above paragraphs; Pokémon Black and White 2's complex spider web of online features could fill an article on its own. With Wii U on the horizon, this wild ride could spiral into an unparalleled era of creativity and weirdness, which is an exciting – if scary — thought. In the meantime, let's patiently cross our fingers and hope that, wherever he is, Meowth is living a happy and fulfilling life.

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User Comments (38)

Marakuto

#4

Marakuto said:

Pokemon Pikachu, I remember getting that small yellow device. It was such a great way of raising Pikachu on that small screen, but what about the Pokedex and the Pokeball games that were similar to the Pokewalker?

DrMetroid

#5

DrMetroid said:

@Marakuto Oh man do you mean that old Pokedex toy with the horrible sprites lol! It doesn't look like much today, but as a kid I thought that thing was amazing. I remember walking around my neighborhood with that contraption, my Ash Ketchum hat, and those spring loaded pokeballs which had a better chance of catching your finger than a pokemon. Good times.

TKOWL

#6

TKOWL said:

Pokewalker was the best. Still wish it was compatable with Gen 5.

Lalivero

#9

Lalivero said:

Wonder what kind of thing they will come up with next.

@Drmetroid That seems like forever ago, seriously. How time has flown by...

Haxonberik

#10

Haxonberik said:

Found a mistake in the second to last paragraph, last line. It says Dream Drop instead of Dream Radar. Probably confused with the Kingdom Hearts subtitle

LittleKing

#12

LittleKing said:

@MrWalkieTalkie Since the voice recognition for so many more important words and phrases is so fuzzy, I doubt it actually detects the word "Playstation" and makes Pikachu angry. Maybe it's confused with another word, or something? Or was it confirmed that it was intentional?

hendie001

#13

hendie001 said:

I have been a huge nintendo fan for the last 28 years and have a very large collection of nintendo games, systems and gaming collectables. The only nintendo franchise i have never played is pokemon. I have been thinking of getting into pokemon but have no idea where to start and everytime i go to the game store to buy a poke game i am overloaded buy a sea of chocies. What game would be the best to get me going, should i go new games or go with the original game boy version.

Xilef

#15

Xilef said:

@hendie001 You could start with pretty much anyone of the main games. I would personally recomend Black and White (the sequels are probably bether but i haven't played them yet) since they are the latest.

zipmonStaff

#21

zipmon said:

Man I still love my Pokéwalker! As cool as Pokémon Black & White were, after SoulSilver it really felt like a step back not being able to throw a Pokémon into my pocket every time I went for a walk. I've shipped the Pokéwalker across the Atlantic a few times too, and it's hilarious how many watts it gets in transit!

Jaco

#22

Jaco said:

Man I haven't played pokemon since the Gold and Silver days and have been thinking of getting back into it, should I get Black and White 1 or 2?

Aqueous

#23

Aqueous said:

I wish the batteries in my walker were not fried, I've been enjoying the dream radar so far

Sylverstone

#24

Sylverstone said:

I wish you mentioned the Pokemon Mini too. That was actually my first owned portable gaming system before the DS.

(I played on the Game Boy Color... but it was my sister's!)

Morpheel

#25

Morpheel said:

I wanted one of these Pikachu, but my parents never bought me one :(
That was a sad christmas. Not really, but I really wanted one :|

GloryQuestor

#26

GloryQuestor said:

I bought a Pokemon Pikachu 2 when it was brand new to interact with Pokemon Crystal on my Gameboy Color. I have all three still to this day. I recently plugged a battery into my PP2, and it's still working as it used to (well, except for a bit of deterioration of the screen elements, but that's expected considering its age).

Pokewalkers have been a step backward, for what you get in wireless interlink you lose in having a black-and-white screen instead of PP2's nice color one. If Nintendo revisits the idea, they should make a "Pro" version with a nice tiny LCD color display.

GreenDream

#28

GreenDream said:

What gives!? This report is incomplete!

Does anyone remember the Pokemon Snap kiosks in stores like Blockbuster, where one could print out thumbnail-sized sticker pictures, by using your photos from Pokemon Snap and Pokemon Stadium? To activate the kiosks, one needed to buy Pokemon-themed scanning cards. I used at least 6 different ones!

In Gold/Silver/Crystal, one could print out Pokemon Data from the Pokedex, by using the Game Boy Printer. Also, in Crystal, one could print out messages using the Unown letters. The Game Boy Color's IR port was practically designed for the Pokemon games, since it was needed for Mystery Gift transmissions, in addition to free card generation in the GBC version of the Pokemon Trading Card game.

Pokemon Stadium 1 and 2 made the best use of the N64/GB Transfer Pak, and the bonuses afforded by having everything needed was awesome for the Pokemon aficionado back in 2001! Stadium 1 offered a fairly easy way to legitimately perform triple speed speed running through Red/Blue/Yellow in the Dodrio Tower. Stadium 2 offered a huge library database of movesets, learnable moves, egg moves, egg groups, item descriptions, Pokemon statistic caps, you name it, it was in there! (Except EV/IV) Once you put in the time and effort, one could even triple speed run through Gold/Silver/Crystal! No subsequent generation has provided such opportunities through products, since everyone started using the internet. But this was all very handy back then.

Let's also not forget that Crystal version had an online component in Japan through cell-phones. They've always been way ahead of the West with this stuff...

Zombie_Barioth

#30

Zombie_Barioth said:

@GreenDream
I remember those unfortunately the only video store that had one got taken over by Blockbuster and got rid of it.

It amazes me that such crazy creations have become such cherished childhood memories, even the likes of Hey You, Pikachu. We must have been really easy to please back then.

GreenDream

#31

GreenDream said:

@Zombie_Barioth Yeah, and I think that living in an era with almost no internet, then quickly entering an era where internet is ubiquitous was kind of like puberty.

StephenKelly180Staff

#32

StephenKelly180 said:

@A-Hungry-Baker You summed up the whole article in three words!

@zipmon Clever! Shipping the Pokewalker overseas beats tying it to a bicycle any day.

@GreenDream I am thoroughly impressed with your depth of knowledge on this subject! I wish I had enough time and space to include all that good stuff-- especially the Pokemon Snap kiosks.

@Pikminsi I did that with a plastic Pokemon figure once. Psyduck learned Whirlpool!

GamerZack87

#34

GamerZack87 said:

@StephenKelly180 The name "Pikachu Strikes Back" didn't actually remind me of Star Wars Episode V until you mentioned it. Rather, it reminded me of Mewtwo Strikes Back, the first Pokemon movie from the good ol' days. :)

R-L-A-George

#35

R-L-A-George said:

LOL, I need to replace my pokewalker battery and the fact its packed. Man I wish I didn't pack it!

coolvw93

#36

coolvw93 said:

hey you pikachu was one of my favorites on the N64(with Majoras Mask, OoT and Golden eye). i still play it for a good laugh every now and then. Best part is when pikachu is in one of those moods where it starts to tear apart the room- throwing tissues, playing the trumpet, throwing anything, eating anything you tell it to, and sometimes idk if its sneezing or spitting stuff at me.

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